Redesigning State Financial Aid to Better Serve Nontraditional Adult Students: Practical Policy Steps for Decision Makers

A new report from CLASP recommends changes to state financial aid that would better address the financial needs of low-income adult students. Four out of 10 college students are over the age of 25 and approximately half of undergraduates are low income. By 2022, the growth rate of this student population is set to outpace the rate for traditional age students by almost twice as much. Unfortunately, state financial aid policy does not reflect the needs of this growing majority.

States must explicitly focus on these students, often called “nontraditional,” by contextualizing support to their work, family, and school lives to create a surer path to graduation. The report recommends more targeted, inclusive financial aid strategies that support students with the greatest needs and help states meet completion and attainment goals.

In the face of declining state resources, some states have reengineered the way state financial aid is allocated, resulting in shifts in eligibility requirements, reduced awards, and technical changes that present barriers for nontraditional students. The marginalizing impact of these restrictions creates a barrier to college access and success for a majority of college students, hindering states’ long-term goals for increasing college completion and skill development across their populations. Current policies also contribute to rising levels of unmet financial need (the gap between what college costs and what students have to pay).

It’s not just students who are impacted; financial aid policies have implications for all of us. Today’s economy increasingly requires workers to attain more skills and credentials. Over 95 percent of jobs created since the 2010 economic recovery have gone to people with at least some level of college education. By 2020, approximately two-thirds of all jobs will require a postsecondary credential. Financial aid reform is both an equity and economic imperative for states’ futures.

The report builds on previous research and current trends to identify four cornerstones of an effective state aid program:

Cornerstones of an effective state aid policy

Using this framework, the report highlights promising state financial aid programs and current state program gaps and offers principles to reshape policies and target investments to better serve nontraditional students.  

Read the report here >>